SPRINGFIELD >> It has to happen.
At some point Natalie Kucowski is going to take over the game.
Tuesday, St. Basil’s Lafayette-bound senior decided that time was the second half of the AACA title game.
The Panthers had a tenuous five-point lead over Villa Maria in the title tilt, played at La Salle College High School. But the Hurricanes were far from out of the game.
Then Kucowski decided enough was enough.
Kucowski bucketed six third-period points, got help from her mates by game’s end the Panthers had a 41-21 win and their current team’s first AACA crown.
“We just don’t have anybody that’s 6-foot-4,” said Villa head coach Kathy McCartney, shaking her head in disbelief just across the hall from the Panthers’ whoop-it-up in and adjacent classroom. “Natalie just decided to take over the game, and when that happens there isn’t much you can do about it.”
Villa, coming off a thrilling overtime win over Mount Saint Joseph in the AACA semis, had no such heroics on tap Tuesday.
The Hurricanes hung tough for a half. But the third quarter belonged to the Panthers, who outscored Villa, 14-5, then didn’t let up in the fourth quarter, outscoring their foes, 10-3.
“It was a real team effort, and once again, our defense was outstanding,” said St. Basil head coach Terry Mancini. “That’s been the one constant for this team all year.”
The game began with a pair of Panthers baskets off Juliana Gura steals, and the die was cast.
The Panthers made the Hurricanes work for every bucket, while St. Basil was able to score both inside and outside.
Kucowski had seven second-period points, but the Hurricanes were able to hang close, thanks to a solid quarter that saw Marissa Picinich and Kiera Broadhurst each score three points.
But things changed dramatically as the third quarter began.
Kucowski banged home three field goals and Elizabeth Deal and Casey Renolde each hit three-pointers, while the Hurricanes’ only answer was a three-pointer from Julia Samar and a Picinich bucket.
With the lead extended to 14 points by the end of the third quarter, the Hurricanes had little chance of a comeback.
“We had a lot of good looks in the first half,” McCartney said. “But I think the lights of the spotlight got in our eyes a little bit.”
But the Panthers’ eyes were just fine.
“I just kept looking at the clock in the fourth quarter,” Kucowski said. “And I kept smiling.”
By game’s end, the Panthers were in full-on celebration mode.
And already preparing for next week’s district tournament.
St. Basil 41, Villa Maria 21
Villa Maria 4 9 5 3 – 21
St. Basil 8 10 14 10 – 41
Villa Maria: Julia Samar 1 1-2 4; Brianna Wright 0 0-0 0; Erin DiDonato 1 0-0 2; Marissa Picinich 2 1-5 5; Maddie Gilbertson 0 0-0 0; Abby Walheim 2 2-2 7; Paige DeMutis 0 0-0 0; Morgan Warley 0 0-0 0; Emily Gillin 0 3-4 3; Paige Lauder 0 0-0 0. Totals 6 7-13 21.
St. Basil: Natalie Kucowski 7 0-0 15; Juliana Gura 2 0-0 4; Casey Renolde 1 8-8 11; Cheryl Renolde 1 1-2 3; Maddie Riehman 0 0-0 0; Mariah Roemhild 0 0-0; Elizabeth Deal 2 0-0 5; Cate McCreavy 0 0-0 0; Molly Deal 0 0-0 0; Kelly Grant 0 0-0 0; Paulina Storck 0 0-0 0; Katie Dougherty 2 0-0 4; Lauren Ems 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 9-10 42.
3-pointers: Samar, A.Walheim; Deal; Chryl Renolde; Kucowski.
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